Smaller, well-designed homes are becoming increasingly sought after. Image: Dan Hocking Photography.
THE notion big equals better has shaped the way we’ve built homes for years. But as the dream of the quarter-acre block fades into the past, more people are seeing the value in small.
Australian house sizes were growing each year until recently. But the average size of homes — houses and apartments — has fallen to a 20-year low of 189.9sq m, according to a 2017 Commsec report with Australian Bureau of Statistics data.
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The Sociable Weaver and Clare Cousins Architects’ 10-star home is 160sq m and has four bedrooms. Image: Dan Hocking Photography.
And while our houses are still big on a world scale, the average Aussie house size was 233.3sq m in 2016/2017, down from a high of 247.7sq m in 2008/2009.
“Smaller, well-designed spaces are becoming more and more popular, particularly in the city,” Secret Agent buyer’s advocate Ken Premtic said.
Compact homes were often in better locations, cheaper to buy and run, easier to maintain and more efficient and environmentally sustainable, a Secret Agent Report found in September.
Increased population and decreased land supply were also driving the trend.
Mr Premtic said inner suburbs such as Brunswick, Northcote, Thornbury, Seddon and Yarraville were especially seeing this trend, with buyers willing to trade-off on size for location. “It’s the lifestyle of being able to go out on a Saturday, walk 100 metres and be at a great cafe,” he said. A “shift in thinking” meant a range of people were willing to go smaller, from young buyers seeking lifestyle and amenity, to downsizers looking for low-maintenance living.
Investors weren’t averse to thinking small either, Wakelin Property Advisory director Jarrod McCabe said. “Terrace houses and cottages can make a fantastic investment,” he said, adding these properties generally appreciated well and were in demand with renters.
Smaller footprint homes like the 10-star home can still feel spacious through good design. Image: Dan Hocking Photography
Apartments are of course part of the small living trend. And the offerings were improving with developers including communal facilities like vegie gardens, and better floorplans, Mr Premtic said.
He said townhouses were also highly popular.
Compact inner-city houses were another aspect, with many families making the most of their small space with efficient renovations, rather than moving to large homes further from the city. “If there is scope to add value and make changes it’s definitely being explored,” Mr Premtic said.
New builds are also key to the small living movement. The Sociable Weaver head of design Michael Nowlan said there had been a “massive shift” toward building smaller.
“People are being more mindful of the environment. And they’re coming to us knowing what they want, not needing excessive size,” he said.
The building and design company offers a range of smaller footprint homes, several just 100-150sq m in size, which it has created in inner-city suburbs like St Kilda, to locations like Daylesford or the coast.
The Sociable Weaver head of design Michael Nowlan.
Big homes can come with big costs.
“They are expensive to run and, being so large, they become hard to heat and cool and maintain air quality, not to mention the cost that goes along with a larger build,” Mr Nowlan said.
On the flip side, smaller homes were more energy efficient, cost effective and easier to heat and cool.
Mr Nowlan said it was also easier to get the best performance from a small home. His company created homes with a 7.5 to 8 star energy rating for its base range, and had also made a 10-star house.
Efficiency of space was another element. He said larger homes often used only 40 per cent of the space. This figure went up as home size decreased.
Overall, many people were opting to go smaller to live with less debt, he said.
LESS IS MORE
Environmental and social benefits are also big drivers behind the movement.
“We are seeing a trend for people wanting to be more conscious with their design and only design what they really need,” Mr Nowlan said. “It’s starting to create a new narrative to what the great Australian dream is.”
Mr Nowlan said inhabitants could feel more connected in smaller homes and spend less time worrying about costs and home maintenance.
“When you strip it back, it brings the importance back to you living in it — to your family, unwinding with friends and enjoying life and not worrying about an immense mortgage,” he said.
Living smaller could also encourage people to declutter, and even rethink stumbling home with bursting shopping bags. “You start to question things you buy,” Mr Nowlan said.
As well as being more efficient, smaller homes could be less detrimental to a site’s natural environment — something that drew many people to a site in the first place, Mr Nowlan said. “If you put a house on a property it’s going to have an impact, there’s no way around that, but you can lessen that impact,” he said.
Small footprint design The Bungalow by The Sociable Weaver can fit three bedrooms and two bathrooms into 120sq m.
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT
Good design is key for small homes. “You can have a space which is 70sq m and feels like 50sq m, or a space that’s 70sq m and feels like its 90sq m,” Mr Premtic said. “The use of space is very important.”
But a small space, no matter how well designed, would be far less appealing in a location with no lifestyle benefits, Mr Premtic said. “The two go hand-in-hand. You need both: well designed, and with local amenity.”
A small home could offer a sense of beauty, space and luxury.
“It’s about natural light, connection to the outdoors and not creating closed-off spaces,” Mr Nowlan said. Well-integrated storage was another essential.
The Sociable Weaver’s ‘The Bungalow’ is 120sq m, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and natural finishes. A double-height ceiling creates a feeling of space in the living area, while large glass allows ample light and frames the outdoors.
Mr Nowlan said ensuring natural light in most-used areas was a key to creating an inviting, albeit compact, space.
He said most clients found they could go even smaller than first thought and instead spend extra money on quality finishes.
“A lot of people can’t afford the average house price but they don’t want to do something cheap; they want to do something meaningful that’s going to last,” he said.